Huaorani of Ecuador


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To determine behaviors of communities, the importance as well as relevance of cultures cannot be overstated. This is essentially because generally speaking, culture constitutes a community’s way of living. By definition, culture constitutes all the learned as well as collective system (figurative) of thoughts, viewpoints, morals, values as well as policies that have an impact on the conduct as well as perspicacity of people. It hence follows that the way a given culture makes a living has a lasting impact (direct or otherwise) on a wide range of issues as well as culture aspects in a communal setting. It is important to note that over time, the organization as well as interpretation of ideas has acted as a basis of the expansion of cultural studies.

Hence whichever classification a culture is given i.e. industrialist, agriculturalist, pastoralists, horticulturalist or even forager; such an impact is bound to be an impact on other behaviors of the culture including but not in any way limited to values and beliefs, political organizations, gender relations, social changes, economic organization as well as kinship and social organization.  This text will concern itself with the primary mode of subsistence of the Huaorani of Ecuador and analyze the impact the primary mode of subsistence of the Huaorani of Ecuador has on a number of cultural aspects.

A discussion

The Huaorani of Ecuador are indigenous Amerindians found in the South American country of Ecuador in the region of Amazon. These indigenous Amerindians are also widely referred to as Waorani. According to Wright (2009), the Huaorani are known to have characteristics which seem to largely differ with a variety of other Ecuador tribes. Those who speak the Huaorani language are estimated to be close to 4000 and this also constitutes the areas general population. However, research indicates that the Huaorani language is significantly different to the countrys other languages.

The region lying between the Napo and the Curray rivers is largely accepted as the ancestral land of the Huaorani community and in the recent past, the landscape has become significantly scared as a result of illegal logging as well as trapping of oil. It can be noted that these two activities are considered illegal in the country. However, apart from this, the Huaorani have a repute of aggressively defending their landscape as well as culture from the encroachment of settlers as well as other people who may be taken by the community to be enemies.

According to Rival (2002), hunting and gathering was the main activity of the Huaorani people in the past and hence the primary means of subsistence then included animal hunting. This is an activity that was facilitated by virtue of the Huaorani living in the forest. However, in the modern day and age, the practice of hunting and gathering as a primary means of subsistence has shifted significantly for other communities thanks to the advancement of interaction as well as technology. However, this is not so for the Huaorani. Hunting hence constitutes the main approach in which men provide for their families. Some of the preferred tools of trade when it comes to the Huaorani include blowguns as well as spears. When it comes to crop planting, Wright (2009) is of the opinion that this is done as a way of supplementing what the men bring home after hunting.

It can be noted that when it comes to hunting, women are also involved but it is increasingly difficult to encounter a female hunter. Instead, women are charged with a wide range of roles in the household including but not limited to taking care of the children as well as coordination other household chores as well as duties. Raymond (2006) notes that by women being allowed to engage in hunting, familial ties are made firm. The reasoning here is that a family can undertake a hunting activity as a joint force and this over time becomes a bonding tie in that families tend to approach problems from the same perspective in the familial setup. Wright (2009) has also noted that men tend to put their efforts into hunting so as to provide for their families due to the respect accorded to the familial unit.

A family unit is made up of kin groups and this may balloon over time especially when members of villages subscribe to such groups. However, if an individual from a far off village wants to join a particular group, he or she must have his or her own dwelling place as it is prohibited for a member of another village to live in the landowners houses. As far as kinship is concerned, the unit is made up of father, mother, grandchildren as well as other spouses.

Another interesting aspect of culture that has significantly been affected by the mode of subsistence of the Huaorani is polygamy. Essentially polygamy is not prohibited amongst the Huaorani and in that regard; a man can keep as many wives as he so wishes as long as he is willing to fend for then all as well as their children. However, because hunting remains to be the main mode of subsistence for Huaorani men, it becomes difficult for such men to fend for their many wives. They however get around this by having as many children as possible who more often than not are incorporated into the hunting team as soon as they are of age. It is hence not uncommon to have households with more than 50 children within the Huaorani community. According to Raymond (2006) though the Huaorani do not have a functional political organizations as we know it, they have several organized leadership roles comprising of elders and warriors. Even here, their primary mode o subsistence comes into play where leaders are dictated on two metrics, that is, age and prowess in hunting.

The Huaorani community still views the forest as their fixed settlement and hence hunting continues to be a primary means of subsistence. Some of the Huaorani groupings that has significantly and with a varying level of success isolated itself from contact with the outside world include the Taromenene, Onemenane, Huiantare as well as the Tagaeri. It is important to note that these groupings comprise the five categories of the Huaorani community.

The Huaorani peoples belief system postulates that in the past, the whole world was covered by a huge forest and according to Otero (2007), this is one of the main reasons why the Huaorani people prefer to live in forests. Indeed, this is the same reason why the Huaorani shun other communities whose choice of residence is not the forest. The Huaorani also believe that the outside world away from the forests is relatively insecure and this is another major reason they shun the outside world. in their own opinion, living in a forest offers them a form of protection from a wide range of risk factor including but not in any way limited to enemy attacks as well as witchcraft. The most important life aspects of the Huaorani include the rivers as well as forests. This is similar to the view taken by other hunter gatherer communities.

According to Rival (2002), a cultural anthropologist, who has spent most of his time studying the various aspects of living of the Huaorani, plants as well as animals have an existence that is both physical and spiritual. It is important to note that though the Huaorani hunt animals, they still have great respect for them because they believe that when a person dies, he inevitably comes back to life as an animal, most notably termites. It is worthwhile to note here that hunting animals in the Huaorani community as a means of survival but even so, they go ahead to placate the dead animals spirits as the failure to do so could inform a number of misfortunes amongst humans. A lot of attention is given to he jaguar as well as snake whenever Huaorani groups engage in hunting and this is for a special reason. When it comes to the jaguar, the Huaorani take it to be a marauder of repute while when it comes to the snake, the Huaorani believe they represent the community cosmologys most evil force. Rival (2002) notes that when it comes to the medicinal as well as botanical significance of various forest plants, the Huaorani poses a wealth of knowledge that can simply be described as amazing. Hence in the Huaorani community, plants constitute a vital part of life.

Effects of the Huaorani peoples beliefs and values on the hunting practices

According to Otero (2007), the Huaorani community is largely known for its preference to staying deep in the forests where contact with the outside world is minimal. This as it has already been indicated above is based on the premise that the forest wards-off their would-be enemies and keeps witchcraft at bay. In therefore follows that by staying isolated from the rest of us, the Huaorani can engage in their primary subsistence mode which is hunting as well as gathering. It is important to note that when it comes to hunting and gathering, a wide range of values as well as beliefs come into play. Some have already been noted above. This is also the case when it comes to the eating habits of the Huaorani.

Raymond (2006) notes that there are some kinds of animals which the Huaorani customs prohibit from hunting. This is based on the belief that dead people are usually watched over by a giant python and only those who escape enter the spirit world. it is on this foundation according to the Huaorani that individuals find heir way back into the world in an animal form. It is also the foundation of this that people avoid hunting types of animals.

It can be noted that the Huaorani mode of subsistence is influenced by these hunting limitations. Further, the Huaorani must not eat meat from either an eagle or a jaguar. When it comes to the jaguar, the Huaorani believe that the jaguar is a formidable Oriente forecaster and according to a popular belief held within the community, the mating between an eagle and a jaguar was the point from which all people descended. This has also informed another practice where those who can pass on both spiritual as well as medicinal information i.e. the “jaguar sons” are adopted by elders. It is on the basis of their beliefs that the Huaorani hold the jaguar in high regards.

It is believed that consuming the jaguars meat brings about calamities which are motivated by spirits which are angered by this act. The animals subjected to hunting as far as the Huaorani are concerned include wild peccaries, birds as well a monkeys. Apart from the jaguar and the snake, those animals whose meat must never be eaten include the deer which according to the Huaorani has eyes that resemble that of a human being and hence the values as well as customs of the Huaorani prohibit the hunting of such.

It is important to note that amongst the Huaorani people, killing a animal as a means of livelihood apart from those animals whose hunting is prohibited is ethical. It is hence clear that a number of beliefs the Huaorani people hold affect both their eating as well as hunting endeavors. It should also be noted that due to the significant of plants as far as their medicinal as well as spiritual values are concerned, they must never be destroyed. Bradley (2010) also notes that the Huaorani are aware that the forests are a source of their livelihood. With that in mind, they have over time, as noted above, defended their forests against any form of encroachment by outsiders.

Indeed a perfect case in time where modernity came into conflict with the Huaorani mode as well as source of subsistence i.e. hunting was in 1992 when the government of Ecuador granted concessions to a number of oil exploration firms who were to go ahead and search for oil in the native lands. This move was effectively condemned by the Huaorani who felt that by having forests cleared, they could no longer engage in hunting, their primary subsistence mode, as animals would no longer be readily available. The argued, through their elders, that their livelihood as well as very existence was largely dependent of the forests health. This is a example of how hunting as a primary mode of subsistence for the Huaorani has gone ahead to influence political organization at the national level.


In conclusion, it is important to note that the primary mode of subsistence for the Huaorani has been in place for centuries and it is only in the 20th century that outside interference was registered in the way of western exploration. What is unclear going forward is whether hunting which has offered livelihood for so many families over time shall continue to be the primary subsistence mode for the Huaorani. According to analysts however, it appears that the Huaorani would have to seek another mode of subsistence given the sheer magnitude of interference from the outside world which is impacting on their culture, kinship social organization as well as physical resources such as trees.


Bradley A. L. (2010). Subsistence and Culture. Journal of Asian culture, 112 (3). 34-39

Raymond B. H (2006). Subsistence modes of the Huaorani. American Indian Culture research journal. 112 (8), 86-92

Otero, L. Z. (2007). Resistance in an Amazonian community: Huaorani organizing against the global economy. Berghahn Books

Rival, L.R. (2002). Trekking through history: the Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador. Columbia University Press

Wright, R. (2009). The culture of the Huaorani. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, 109(2), 22-34

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